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How to find a rising star

Life science companies rely on medical affairs to seek out external experts as trusted advisors and partners throughout the product development process and beyond.

While these experts are often referred to as “key opinion leaders,” that term only describes a relatively narrow aspect of an external expert’s role in partnering with a life science company. An expert’s ability to shape the opinions of their peers in the medical community is valuable, but it’s not the whole story.

The right external expert can support a company’s drug or device throughout its entire lifecycle by:

  • Identifying unmet medical needs
  • Helping to design clinical trials
  • Stratifying and targeting specific patient populations
  • Assisting with product positioning
  • Navigating regulatory challenges

External experts can also serve as the scientific “face” of an organization by presenting on critical trial results at conferences and other events, or by co-authoring scientific literature with a company’s backing.

The most sought-after experts are those with long, distinguished careers in a specific therapy area. These professionals have the experience and expertise that only come with many years in the field. But they’re not the only experts worth engaging.

Who is a rising star?

The next generation of scientific and clinical experts are today’s “rising stars,” younger upstarts who have set themselves apart from their peers in a therapy area but who are still relatively early in their careers.

Healthcare professionals and researchers in the early years of their careers generally have fewer publications and speaking engagements to their name. It’s often during this period of relative anonymity that these emerging experts are most productive and most open to taking on new partnerships.

Why partner with a rising star?

What they lack in experience, rising stars make up for with innovative work and a willingness to challenge the status quo with groundbreaking concepts. They may also have better access to younger audiences and greater familiarity with the digital channels that are increasingly the center of scientific discourse. By finding an expert early, you can establish a long-term professional relationship that creates value and opportunities for both parties over many years.

In this guide, we’ll outline a five-step process that you can use to find, engage, and form a mutually beneficial relationship with a rising star. After reading, you should understand how to use healthcare intelligence from a variety of data sources—including claims data and reference data, research publications, social media activity, and news—to identify and connect with emerging external experts who can support your organization’s unique goals.

Step 1: Define the rising star persona that aligns with your therapy area

The right expert for your organization will be defined by your therapy area and business goals. Before you begin your search, you’ll want to create a persona (or several) that represents the ideal rising star for your needs.

For instance, if you’re developing a drug to treat a rare form of cancer, the right expert might have these characteristics:

  • Highly specific knowledge of that particular cancer or patient population
  • A small network of peers who have considerable expertise within your therapy area
  • Speaking experience with your targeted cancer or patient population
  • Significant experience running clinical trials

Alternatively, if you’re working on a new insulin pump or drug for patients with diabetes, the ideal expert will likely look different:

  • Experience treating broad and diverse patient populations and co-morbidities
  • A large network of peers open to new or novel treatments
  • Speaking or publication experience at larger conferences with broader appeal across specialties

Be sure to also consider whether your ideal expert has a digital presence or demonstrates considerable thought leadership on social media. Once you’ve determined the characteristics that you need in a rising star, you can start to prioritize certain criteria to measure the best candidates against.

Step 2: Prioritize the most critical criteria and establish ways to measure impact

There are dozens of contextual criteria by which you can judge an expert’s suitability for partnership—as well as their ongoing performance, once a partnership is underway. You should select a handful of criteria to rank your initial candidates based on your specific therapy area and goals.

A Definitive Healthcare survey of 50 medical affairs directors found five criteria that are highly sought-after due to their relevance across therapy areas:

  • Recent, relevant publications as a percentage of total publications
  • Length of career (five to 10 years is typically considered an expert’s “emergence phase”)
  • Speaking engagements, especially as an invited speaker at major conferences
  • Grant funding volume and relevance
  • Medical society awards, especially those for young or early-career professionals

Depending on your objectives, other important criteria may include international experience, social media presence, academic affiliations, or experience working with specific demographics. Choose the criteria that offer the highest value to your organization and rank them in order of importance. You’ll use these criteria first to build a list of candidates and then to measure their impact and growth over time.

Step 3: Generate a list of candidates

With your priority criteria established, it’s time to create a list of candidates to engage for each geographic and therapeutic area your company operates within. Your initial list should be wide-reaching and fairly inclusive, and then narrowed down in accordance with the medical affairs resources available to you.

Consider your network for potential rising stars

Our survey found that around 79% of medical affairs directors start with a list based on recommendations from internal and external sources such as personal networks, other external experts, and advisory groups. Generating an initial list by recommendation alone will usually result in a manageable cohort of qualified candidates. However, these recommendations are prone to bias and are likely to ignore well-qualified candidates outside a source’s network.

Take a data-driven approach to finding rising stars

The data-driven approach to finding emerging experts takes a little more work, but it produces a much fuller universe of candidates to select from. You’ll need to procure intelligence on all the experts within your geographic and/or therapeutic area, either by manually combing through a variety of data sources or purchasing a data solution from a reliable vendor.

Manually gathering data may initially seem more cost-effective than going through a vendor, but the hours and effort required to gather, process, and analyze data will cut significantly into the other responsibilities of your medical affairs team—plus, these activities are likely outside of your team’s core skills.

To generate a complete list of candidates, you’ll need to leverage a variety of data sources:

  • Claims data can help you understand the depth of a rising star’s experience with specific diagnoses, procedures, and prescriptions.
  • Healthcare reference and affiliations data offers detailed intelligence about the relationships and connections between an emerging expert and providers, networks, facilities, and other organizations. This data also reveals financial and clinical performance that you can use to hone your value proposition.
  • Accurate contact information ensures you have the best means of getting in touch with an expert.
  • Additional primary research into social network presence, academic activity, scientific output, and participation at conferences makes it easier to pinpoint specific needs and areas of focus.

In order to process all this data, you should use an analytic tool that offers fast sorting, filtering, prioritization, and automatic selection based on the criteria you’ve established. The ideal data vendor should offer access to such a tool as part of their intelligence package.

With a full list of candidates, use your criteria to identify those who offer the highest value to your organization—and whom your organization is best suited to support over the course of their career. Rather than aiming to find a specific number of candidates for each geographic and/or therapy area, focus on identifying all those who meet your narrowed criteria. Just be sure to apply those criteria consistently across areas.

Step 4: Create profiles for each of your finalist candidates

Using the data you’ve gathered, begin building profiles for each candidate that go beyond your priority criteria. For instance, international work experience may not have been one of your priorities, but knowing whether your final candidates have performed research on an international team can inform your engagement efforts and help you establish your value in a potential partnership.

Your final candidates’ profiles should be as comprehensive as possible. You never know which details will be relevant when engaging with a rising star, and having a fuller understanding of their work, interests, and goals will help you form more mutually beneficial relationships.

Step 5: Engage with the candidates to validate interest and expertise

A rising star may look like a perfect match on paper, but nothing beats a conversation when it comes to getting to know a person.

Equipped with the profiles you’ve created, your medical science liaison (MSL) should interact with a candidate and determine whether they demonstrate a propensity to be a thought leader or merely an expert (someone with the expertise you’re seeking might not necessarily be the public-facing scientific communicator you need).

This initial engagement is a great opportunity to assess the candidate’s career goals. Are they committed to a career in patient care or research, or are they more interested in the business of medicine? If they see themselves as a future executive rather than a provider or researcher, they’re probably not a good long-term fit.

MSLs should also use the initial engagement to highlight the ways your organization can support a candidate’s career, whether through partnership on publications or clinical work, new opportunities to present at conferences, expanded networking options, collaborative work on intellectual property, or growth through funding, education, or field medical engagement.

If the candidate shows promise and interest, it could be the beginning of a beautiful new relationship. But once the relationship begins, there’s more work to do: You should follow the rising star’s career development and use the criteria you established to ensure they show continuing interest in and relevance to your therapy area and company objectives.

What it all means

Healthcare commercial intelligence built on claims, reference and affiliations data, and research publications can help you more effectively identify, target, and engage rising stars. With this data, you can create lists of candidates based on priority criteria, develop profiles for each candidate, engage them to confirm their suitability and interest, and chart their performance over time.

For more information on identifying rising stars, explore these resources:

Or if you’re ready to start the search for your next rising star, book a demo to see how Monocl Expert Suite can help you identify and strategically engage with scientific and clinical experts from around the world.